Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Storylines After Two Weeks

Posted by Zach on November 24, 2008

Puerto Rico Xavier Memphis Basketball

What have we learned so far after two weeks of college basketball? That Samardo Samuels looks to be a force. That Wisconsin and Washington State keep on playing great defense. That Wesley Matthews finally wants to be the best player on Marquette. That Arizona doesn’t know that fouling in a tie game is a poor idea. That ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon was a roaring success. That Jimmy Baron is the best outside shooter in the nation other than Stephen Curry. That Duke loves dominating in November. That scheduling Mercer is a bad idea. That NJIT needs to rethink the whole Division I thing. That DeJuan Blair can be totally unstoppable. That it’s going to be a long year for Barack Obama’s brother-in-law.

Okay, those are pretty important. But what are the single most looming and captivating stories that we should take away from the first two weeks of college hoops? Here’s a few:

1. James Harden, Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin are the best players in the nation.
Okay, we’ll give Tyler Hansbrough an opportunity to reclaim his crown when he’s finally healthy, but these three superstars and eventual lottery picks have certainly filled up the box score while facing “weaker” opponents (should point out that Oklahoma did play Davidson). Harden is averaging 25 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5 assists per game, including a line Sunday against Pepperdine where he made 11 of 13 two-point shots. Curry hasn’t let anyone down looking for an encore performance, averaging 34 points and shooting 43% from deep. Almost as important for Davidson? 8.8 APG and 2.8 TO/PG, meaning he’s made a smooth transition over to point guard. How about 26 PPG and 19.8 RPG for Blake Griffin? Sounds like Wilt Chamberlain to me. He’s played incredible this season, and even though it’s incredibly early to be ranking Player of the Year contenders, I’m going to do it anyway: Griffin is #1. Of course, these are all small sample sizes (three or so games). But there’s no denying these three are producing up to expectation and much more.

2. This freshman class is nowhere near last year’s crop.
Watching most of the top-ranked players in this years recruiting class struggle mightily in their transition to the college game, it’s hard to not think back and appreciate the likes of Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose dominating from day one on their respective teams. Beasley was putting up record numbers instantly, Love was clearly the best player on a Final Four squad right away, and Derrick Rose might have been the best point guard in the nation a year ago. Someone like DeMar DeRozan is a prime example. I expected him to dominate right away for the Trojans, and while I still think he’s a phenomenal player, the transition has been a difficult one initially. DeRozan has yet to top 14 points in five games and disappeared in two key USC losses vs. Seton Hall and Missouri.  Tyreke Evans has made 2 of 16 threes and went 4/16 in their battle with Xavier Sunday for the Puerto Rico championship. Jrue Holiday seems like more of a two or three-year college player. It’s been the Big East froshies looking the most comfortable: Samuels, Walker and Monroe.

3. Xavier is once again one of the top non-BCS schools in the nation. I hesitate to call them a mid-major at this point. They’ve undoubtedly graduated from that label, so I’ll go with non-BCS. Memphis should take some notes after freshman Terrell “Icewater” Holloway (I made up that nickname, just go with it and make me happy) sunk free throw after free throw to capture the Puerto Rico championship Sunday. B.J. Raymond is an excellent three-point shooter, Derrick Brown is a powerful scoring forward and Kenny Frease will continue to develop inside. Sean Miller also has solid players like C.J. Anderson, Jason Love, Dante Jackson and Jamel McClean at his disposal. Not many programs can rebound this quickly after losing players as important as Josh Duncan, Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell. Credit Sean Miller for re-tooling this quickly and building a Sweet 16-caliber squad.

4. The Big 12 looks stronger than ever. Some laughed when I said the Big 12 is deeper and more loaded than ever when I wrote their preview last month. It’s real early, but this conference could challenge the ACC for #2 in the rankings. We expected Texas and Oklahoma to come out firing. Contenders Kansas and Baylor are also playing well early (should get a nice gauge of KU after the CBE Classic). But it’s the bottom half of the conference playing exceptional basketball that’s the real story. Missouri played well over the weekend against stiff competition, almost beating Xavier in the first game of the tournament. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are scoring like crazy. Even Kansas State and Iowa State are dominating weak competition and avoiding the upset bug like some other high majors (Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, etc.) Combined, the Big 12 is 39-2 as a conference. That’s a good record.

5. It could be a down year for Los Angeles basketball.
Stress the word “could.” Southern Cal has been the #1 disappointment in two weeks of play- DeRozan hasn’t played like himself, Hackett is a turnover machine, they’ve shot 26% from deep and 64% from the line. The reason I used “could” instead of “will” is because I have faith DeRozan will explode sooner than later, and Tim Floyd the type of coach who can turn the ship around. UCLA should also improve as the season goes on as Holiday, Morgan, Lee and the other young players get more acquainted with the college game. They desperately need the passive and often uninterested Josh Shipp to bring his game to another level because Alfred Aboya isn’t going to score 20 points on most nights. Early on, the Bruins look more like a Sweet 16-caliber team than a Final Four contender we’re used to seeing in Westwood, while USC could be bubble-bound.

Any that I missed?

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